While researching for a novel, I stumbled about an interesting legal point I can't answer on my own because I neither am a lawyer nor am in the US:

Between 1945 and 1951 quite some Katana were surrendered to the occupying American forces. Many were destroyed or buried. A not too small number did end up not destroyed as ordered but taken as souvenirs by US soldiers. While ethically questionable and still an apple of contention in some way, that is not the question here.

I would like to know: how did New York Law handle the possession and carrying of (historical) swords like katana between 1945 and the 1960s?

I know that nowadays §265.01 of the NY Penal Code governs possession and transport of such 'knives', but I could only find the revisions that were made in the 2000s, but no indication that there would have been a similar law earlier.

My research gave me slight insight into the federal gun laws, for example from here, hinting me at the 1934 National Firearms Act and United States v Miller, but both dealt with firearms/firearms transport and did not address bladed weaponry.

In contrast, the Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 seems to only address short bladed weapons of specific makeup, not Katana or similar

  • I'm not sure they would have handled the possession as they probably were only kept by important people who wouldn't have been as strictly monitored. Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 18:20
  • 2
    This is unconvincing, I think katana were much more likely to be brought home by regular GIs - "important people" weren't well-represented in the infantry companies who would have received such tendered weapons from their Japanese owners. In any event, I think the issue would come up rarely, as such swords were likely to end up in a box in the attic, and forgotten. Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 18:38
  • This does not show any sign of research into the governing law in the 1960s or even any insight into the topic of war tropies of US soldiers. GIs brought home at least 343 Arasaka type 99 rifles (that's what gunbroker just told me) and war-trophy katanas are actually not that rare - some of them regularly end in auction houses or Museums
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


New York's Sullivan Act of 1911 is mostly remembered for being an early gun control law. It gave rise to much of what's now Article 400 of the Penal Code.

For your purposes, the Act also banned other dangerous weapons. Portions of what's now NY Pen. § 265.01 originated with the Act. The history helps to explain why a modern law references things like sandclubs, billies, and slungshots.

The original text of the act is 1911 N.Y. Laws ch. 195. It modified chapter 40 of the then-current consolidated laws to read like this (relevant portion emphasized):

A person who attempts to use against another, or who carries, or possesses, any instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slungshot, billy, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles or bludgeon, or who, with intent to use the same unlawfully against another, carries or possesses a dagger, dirk, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto, or any other dangerous or deadly instrument or weapon, is guilty of a felony.

Note that the felony's elements for any other dangerous or deadly instrument included both an actus reus (possession) and a mens rea (intent to use unlawfully), so allows to carry it without intent.

  • so, a katana (or officer's cavalry saber for the matter - Westpoint beware!) could be under under "other dangerous or deadly instrument or weapon"... so the relevant, somewhat convoluted statue is: "{(uses OR carries OR owns) [item from list 1]} OR {(has intent to use unlawfully) AND (carries OR possesses) [item from list 2]}"
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:23
  • @Trish, that's how I'm reading it too.
    – Pat W.
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:29
  • Because it is somewhat tricky writing they did there, I went and highlighted the relevant part because in my first reading the mens-rea requiring or between the lists went under - the first list is illegal to own in any case, the second is illegal to have only if you want to use it illegally.
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:32
  • @Trish, those look like good edits to me.
    – Pat W.
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:40

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